How important is Ohio in deciding who wins U.S. presidential elections? Critically important! Consider this: No Republican presidential nominee — not one — who has not carried Ohio has ever been elected to the White House.
In the last 17 presidential contests, John F. Kennedy in 1960 remains the only Democrat who has won the White House while losing Ohio. That Ohio will once again be a major battleground state in the 2012 presidential race is understood by both parties.
Last November, Ohio Republicans won a smashing landslide — unseating Democrats from the governorship and four other statewide offices, from five U.S. House seats and from control of the lower house of the Ohio legislature, while sending a son of the Buckeye State, John Boehner, to be the Republican speaker of the U.S. House.
That’s the same Boehner whom President Barack Obama invited to play golf with him and Vice President Joe Biden. Given the opening by a politically tone-deaf White House, Boehner then shrewdly invited first-year Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich to round out the famous foursome.
Kasich, for those who do not regularly follow Ohio politics, has, according to a recent survey of the state’s voters by Public Policy Polling, a positive job-approval rating of 33 percent positive, while 56 percent of Kasich’s constituents award him a negative job rating. These numbers tie him with Florida freshman Republican Gov. Rick Scott for, what the pollsters term, “the most reviled governor in the country.”
Last November, Kasich won by defeating the Democratic governor, Ted Strickland. If voters were deciding between the same two men today, according to the poll, Strickland would trounce Kasich 59 percent to 34 percent.
One major reason for the Republican governor’s unpopularity is Kasich’s successful championing of a new state law, SB 5, which severely limits collective bargaining rights for 350,000 Ohio teachers, police officers and other public employees.
When asked whether that new state law should be kept or repealed in the proposed referendum vote, to be held this fall, by a 54 percent to 36 percent margin Ohioans — including lopsided majorities of independent voters and white, born-again evangelical voters — favored repeal. Democrats by more than five to one endorse repeal of the Kasich-backed law to curtail public employees’ rights.
In short, Kasich has in six short months managed to reunite and re-energize demoralized Ohio Democrats by stripping Ohio working families of their traditional right to bargain for the conditions under which they work.
So what does the Obama White House do? It elevates Kasich to high national prominence as the only one of the nation’s 50 governors whom Obama has ever invited to play a round of golf. Imagine you are the spouse of a police officer or a special education teacher who is facing — without recourse — loss of salary or benefits under Kasich’s collective bargaining law and who is ready to volunteer in the campaign for the referendum vote.
Instead of an insensitive chief executive who favors the Have-a-Lots over the Have-Nots, Kasich turns out to be a golfing buddy of the Democratic president of the United States.
Oh, the White House insists, this was not the president’s invitation, this was Boehner’s choice — which proves only that Boehner has thought more strategically and understands more clearly the central significance of Ohio in determining the presidential winner in 2012.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.